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3 Must-Knows to Help Manage Dental School Debt

Graduating from dental school and beginning a practice are both exciting milestones in a dentist’s life. Unfortunately for many dentists and dentists-to-be, those two events can also be accompanied by student loan concerns. That's because dental student debt burden continues to grow. For example, the average borrower in the class of 2018 finished dental school $251,869 in debt. For more than 40% of graduates, their debt exceeded $300,000.i It’s easy for those large sums to feel overwhelming, but careful planning can help you prepare for that debt as well as other expenses and unexpected events. These three questions can help jump-start the process.

1. What’s the effect of different loan payment options on monthly cash flow?

  • No single loan repayment plan is best for everyone. Start by evaluating your goals and your financial situation. Consider these two options:
  • A typical 10-year repayment plan offers a quicker loan repayment schedule and less total interest paid versus a longer loan term, but it carries higher monthly payments, which reduces monthly cash flow.
  • An extended loan repayment schedule lowers monthly payments and frees up more cash to put toward other expenses, but it equals more interest over the life of the loan. However, if your monthly obligations — such as living expenses — are low or stabilize after graduation, you may be able to put extra funds toward your loan, which can help trim time off the total loan repayment period.

2. How do I pay my debt if I am unable to work?

Making realistic plans for your successful future as a dentist means considering what you’d do if you couldn’t work either for a short time or an extended period. And as a dentist, it’s particularly urgent to consider. According to a study of insured members of the American Dental Association, you have a one in four chance of becoming disabled at some point before retirement.ii

There are several options that can help you bridge this gap. One is to build an emergency fund; many experts recommend saving three to six months of salary to help cover just such circumstances. And an emergency fund can figure into the second essential in any dentist’s plan: disability insurance.

Disability insurance may be a must to help protect you and your family from financial loss if you can’t work for a period of time. For example, that monthly disability benefit can help pay for your living expenses and allow you to keep up on your student loan payments. That in turn can help you from falling behind on loan payments, protecting your credit and ensuring you won’t be subject to penalties and additional interest. (When reviewing disability products, consider looking for a policy that includes student loan repayment benefits to help pay off the amount you borrowed for dental school should you become disabled.)

A group disability policy specifically designed for dentists may be worth considering. A group disability policy can offer significant savings over time, which may free up additional cash flow to put toward your student loan payments. Finally, include your emergency fund in any considerations about the length of a waiting period before your disability insurance kicks in.

3. What happens to my student loans if I were no longer there to repay them?

If you die before you’ve paid off your student loans, your debt could pass on to your family members. That’s just one reason why life insurance may be critical: It can provide funds to help pay off your loans and help secure your family’s future by providing a cash benefit. And much like disability insurance, group life insurance policies for dentists may offer lower premiums, which in turn may lead to greater financial flexibility. (Calculating the amount of life and disability insurance that’s best for your needs may be difficult. The ADA member insurance coverage calculator can help.)

Build a more solid financial foundation: Create a plan now, before you graduate, to manage student debt, insure against income loss due to disability and build an emergency fund.

iAmerican Dental Education Association, 2018,
iiGreat West Financial 2014 incidence study;
Disability Insurance Basics

Dentists: The information on this website is not a contract. Benefits are provided through a Group Policy Nos. (104TLP Term Life, 1105GDH-IPP Disability Income Protection, 1106GDH-OEP Office Overhead Expense Disability, 104GUL Universal Life, 104LTLP Level Term Life, 1117GH-HIP Hospital Indemnity, 1127GH-CIP Critical Illness, and 1107GH-MCP MedCASHSM) filed in the State of Illinois in accordance with and governed by Illinois law, issued to the American Dental Association by Great-West Financial®. The ADA is entitled to receive royalties from the ADA Members Insurance Plans. Coverage is available to all eligible ADA members in all fifty states and U.S. territories under the aforementioned group policy. Each Plan participant will receive a Certificate of Insurance explaining the terms and conditions of the policy. Level Term Life premiums are fixed based on the selected duration of 10 or 20 years. An insured must maintain ADA membership throughout selected term to remain eligible for insurance. Annually Renewable Term Life, Hospital Indemnity, Critical Illness, and MedCASH premiums increase annually based on age. Recommended premiums under the Term Plus® Universal Life plan consist of the cost of insurance (which may vary based on the member’s age and coverage amount), the amount chosen by the member for deposit into his/her Policy Value Account and a service charge. Premium deposits may fluctuate or remain level depending upon the amount maintained in the Policy Value Account. Disability Income Protection premiums increase every 5 years and Office Overhead Expense every 10 years based on age. Premium credit for Annually Renewable Term Life and Term Plus Universal Life is not guaranteed but reevaluated annually. Premium credit for Disability Income Protection, Office Overhead Expense, Hospital Indemnity, Critical Illness, and MedCASH is not guaranteed but reevaluated semi-annually.

Dental Students: The information on this website is not a contract. Student coverage is issued regardless of your condition if you are under 45. If you are 45 or older, you can apply for the no-cost coverage and all student program features by providing proof of good health. Coverage renews automatically each academic year. Individuals may convert coverage to the plans for practicing dentists after graduation by paying ADA member premiums and maintaining ADA membership. Benefits are not payable, as defined by the respective policy, for death or disability resulting from a sickness, disorder, physical condition, or symptom that existed or was treated within 12 months prior to enrollment. Benefits are provided through a group policy Nos. (104TLP Term Life and 1108GDH-SDP Student Disability) filed in the State of Illinois in accordance with and governed by Illinois law, issued to the American Dental Association by Great-West Financial®. Coverage is available to eligible ADA members in all fifty states and US territories under the aforementioned group policy. Each insured will receive a certificate of insurance explaining the terms and conditions of the policy.

ADA® is a registered trademark of the American Dental Association and Great-West Financial® is a registered trademark of GWL&A.

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